Gloria Mark on service, multitasking, creativity and fun

Gloria Mark is a Professor in the Department of Informatics at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at University of California Irvine. Gloria talks about her experiences as chair of a major conference, not just the work but also the rewards. She talks about how she moved from a Fine Arts background, painting murals on buildings, to a PhD in cognitive science and now studying the relationship between media use, attention and stress, but still being able to be creative in work. She also reflects honestly on her own struggles to manage her screen time and stress but above all she reminds us of the importance of fun and fulfilment in work.

“There are opportunities all around us and very often we are blind to them. … You have to be willing to give up a particular path that you might think you are on.”

 “Email is a symbol of work… a reminder there is work there” 

“You can practice creativity in so many ways, in conversations, in writing, in just thinking of ideas.”

“It’s important to keep some kind of fun in what you do because otherwise it’s not worth doing and it’s very important to have fulfilment.”

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Organising a major conference as a tremendous amount of work but being fulfilling, and value of CHI stories for understanding who are the people behind the research

4:50 Taking on a big service role as conference chair, its fit to her ‘big picture thinking’ strengths, growing into the role and learning about people

8:40 Greatest moment seeing it come together walking around the exhibit hall

10:10 Everyone has a particular talent they can contribute, encouraging volunteers and matching skills/interests and what they can contribute

11:00 Career path starting with a fine arts degree, painting and drawing, painting building murals … but not being able to see a future painting in a studio

14:00 Decision to do something practical using her maths skills, but finding bio-statistics boring, needing to earn a living and applying for a research assistant position

17:20 Being asked: “Do you think you can do research on the discovery process of artists?” Of course! Loving reading on cognitive psychology and being yelled at at her first conference

20:00 Getting into cognitive psychology PhD in decision making

20:30 “One philosophy that guides my life - it’s what Einstein says, chance favours the prepared mind. I love that. There are opportunities all around us and very often we are blind to them. But if you are really aware and open, important to be open.” “You have to be willing to give up a particular path that you might think you are on and you have to be willing to change, to veer away from it or to change completely.  And of course … you have to do it intelligently and weigh the risks and the benefits of whatever choice you can make.”

“If it connects to something that is really a part of you that is worth the risk. Because you can’t do something that you feel is not who you are or is against your belief system.”

22:50 Themes from research studying issues around multi-tasking, stress etc. How this research strand started from a personal experience, moving in 2000 from Germany working in a research institute doing only research, to an assistant professor position in the US to do teaching, writing grants, committees, service work … “to what extent am I the only one [multi-tasking]?”

25:20 Patterns seen in studying multi-tasking – sped up and intensified through use of digital media, and the more people switch attention through different screens, the higher their stress because of limited capacity of attentional resources and not replenishing resources

29:30 Extra stress in re-orienting to a new context, every email involves some new topic - “Email is a symbol of work… a reminder there is work there”; online a lot, reading email at breakfast,

32:50 Measured average duration of attention for people on any computer screen is a little over 40 secs, a cost when switching so frequently

33:40 Knowing this from research but making a difference to personal patterns? More insight – as habits are hard to break

34:40 First habit to break? To be more aware of physical environment, going outside more, interacting with people more, shifting attention from screen; but hard to break away because there are rewards for being online –the Las Vegas phenomena and random reward hits

37:30 “Another reason it is hard to pull away is because we are all caught up in this web of interconnections” – have to solve the problem on a macro level, need to think about organizational policies eg batch email times

40:25 Study cutting off people’s email in the workplace for 5 days – stress down, screen attention duration longer … variety of individual responses but at the end of the 5 day period realised life went on. But Information is too seductive

42:40 Looking after herself, honouring the art piece of her? Discovered she can be creative in different mediums not just visual and art training good for science “because I learned how to do lateral thinking” – “you can practice creativity in so many ways, in conversations, in writing, in just thinking of ideas”

46:20 Not good at pulling away from work. Too stressed and manifest in sleep patterns. Take vacations but sometimes vacations can be stressful. Don’t do enough of trying to alleviate stress. One thing that helps – “try to take care of a task as soon as possible because delaying on a task makes stress worse”. ... “It’s like a treadmill”

50:00 Final thoughts? Important to do things that are fun and interesting.

52:43 End

Related Links

Gloria's home page:

CHI2017 conference chaired by Gloria with Sue Fussell -